Homeless Picketers? Street Sense Had the Story

By July 24, 2007Labor Unions

Street Sense is the tabloid newspaper published and sold by the homeless, a self-help venture and usually a pretty good read. Given their familiarity with the topic, they often break stories about homeless life in D.C.

For example, they had the story about the Carpenters Union hiring homeless picketers, the one on today’s front page of the Washington Post, almost two years ago.*Local Unions Pay Homeless to Protest“:

It’s early morning on one of the hottest days of the summer, but there are already half a dozen homeless people crowding around Mike Zaner as they wait for breakfast at Zacchaeus Community Kitchen. Zaner is there to offer them jobs — as protesters.

Zaner works for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, which has been carrying out daily two-hour protests against Tricon Construction at 601 13th St., NW, an office building, located three blocks away from Zacchaeus, where Tricon is doing construction work on the ninth floor.

The union is objecting to what it says are the substandard wages Tricon is paying, but instead of having carpenters chant and protest everyday, they have hired homeless people to do so.

According to George Eisner, the union’s organizing director, most of the protesters marching in front of the building carrying signs and reciting chants live in shelters. He cited Zacchaeus in particular as a source for new protesters.

Street Sense had another element missing from the Post’s piece, a quote from Michael Stoops, then acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In general, he said, hiring the homeless as protesters was not inherently objectionable if a homeless protester agreed with the union’s position and was not simply a “prop” holding a sign. But he also expressed some reservations, saying the practice would be more understandable in the case of a round-the-clock picket rather than a two-hour demonstration. For the relatively short period, it is not unreasonable to expect the union to staff the protest with its own members and supporters, he said.

Not our call. It might have been nice for the Post to give a little credit to Street Sense, though.

P.S. The latest Street Sense online discusses the practices and legality of begging in this story. People who work in downtown D.C. will recognize the panhandler.

*The .url of the story suggests it came out in August ’05. Which fits with our recollection.

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